Sagna Or Jenkinson? - Arsemal's Full Back Conundrum
Arsene Wenger is going to have quite a selection headache in the forthcoming months - and it isn’t the thought of where Jack Wilshere will slot into his purring midfield. No, it is at fullback. The consistently consistent Bacary Sagna is nearing fitness following his second leg break last season (although whether he’ll be the player he was remains to be seen) and he will surely be hoping that he will continue where he left off; slotting into the right-back berth that he has made his own, usurping Emmanual Eboue almost immediately after he joined the Gunners from Auxerre in 2007 and proving to be the most consistent right-back to pull on the red and white since the bullish Cameroonian Lauren left for Portsmouth in 2006.
Wenger will be loathed to rush him back in immediately, even though he is on record as saying that the right-back is ‘the best in the Premier League’, after two dreadful injuries - the second break costing Sagna an almost certain berth in France’s European Championship squad. However, and this may influence Wenger’s decision, Sagna is also nearing the end of his contract (sound familiar Arsenal fans?) and has recently voiced his frustrations about the sale of Robin van Persie and, especially, Alex Song this summer, whose departure to FC Barcelona was a move that actually surprised him and were actions that went on to earn him a word in his ear from his frustrated boss. Wenger said at the time, during his pre-Southampton-match press conference (which Arsenal went on to win 6-1) “I had a chat with him about it, I think he loves the club and he will stay here… I believe any player or any employee has to defend the company he works for and if he’s not completely happy with it he has to go somewhere else. That’s basically what I think.”
With Internazionale allegedly eying Sagna up, there is a distinct possibility Carl Jenkinson’s superb form whilst deputizing in his place this season could keep him out of the team for good. However, both players offer Wenger a different ‘weapon’ to deploy on the field; Sagna is a solid defender who can overlap and link well with the wide-men, but his crossing has much to be desired. Jenkinson is a dangerous crosser of the ball and also overlaps well (indeed it seems like the Arsenal right is finally looking dangerous, after years of left-wing attacks from Marc Overmars, Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Andrei Arshavin) but is still learning the trade as an Elite right-back when it comes to defending and closing down crosses. And Jenkinson is only going to get better. Roy, you’d best get that lad to rethink about playing for the country of his mother’s birth; Finland, because he is going to be one heck of a player when the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil comes around…
There may be, however, an ‘out’ for Wenger’s selection conundrum…with injury-prone England starlet Kieran Gibbs sadly straining his thigh at the start of the month, the versatile Jenkinson could in theory slot into his left-back place, especially if Wenger doesn’t fancy his speedy/speeding Brazilian #11 André Santos playing in Gibbs’ place (his defending does at time leave a lot to be desired, even though he is far better than his may detractors give him credit for) and can therefore save both face and hopefully Jenkinson’s promising start to the campaign.
With Internazionale allegedly eying Sagna up, there is a distinct possibility Carl Jenkinson’s superb form whilst deputizing in his place this season could keep him out of the team for good.
What I feel Wenger needs to do, is to recreate the successful flank-play that helped seal league title wins in 1998, 2002 and 2004, and FA Cup wins in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005, a period when the departing legends Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon were replaced with Silvinho, Ashley Cole, Lauren and Oleg Luzhny (okay, Luzhny wasn’t a great success…), and as they went into the team, they linked up with the new attackers Wenger bought in ahead of them on their flank, thus allowing them to forge electric partnerships and great understanding as they all arrived at the club at around the same time; Overmars, Pires, Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Sylvain Wiltord all had great understanding with their fullbacks and the titles and cups were duly won with the aid of their swashbuckling wide-play and lightning fast counter attacks that used the full width of the pitch.
I think that these partnerships on the flanks have been in short supply of late; Jose Antonio Reyes didn’t work out as an Arsenal player, let alone as a consistent left winger for the team, Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Hleb all drifted in field and aren’t/weren’t traditional wide players (not that Henry, Wiltord, Ljungberg or Pires were traditional wingers, but ones who were certainly more comfortable beating an opposing fullback with pace than the aforementioned eastern European four), andof course players like Cole and Silvinho moved on. There is hope that Theo Walcott’s understanding with Jenkinson on the right is coming along well after some on-field spats (such as at Old Trafford during the infamous 8-2 drubbing), whilst Lukas Podolski and Gibbs on the left look like they were raised playing in the same playground.
So, should Wenger leave his flanks alone and allow these two sets of partnerships to cultivate (unless injuries dictate otherwise), or should Sagna slot in when he is fit and leave Jenkinson looking on from the very sidelines many fans had relegated him to before the season had even started, and ignore his potential to operate just as well on the left to allow Andre Santos to learn Podolski’s game on that flank whilst Gibbs recuperates?
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